As we rapidly approach the one-fifth marker in the 21st century, we’re left wondering where all our progress over the past century has left us from a health and wellness standpoint. Technologically speaking, we’ve never been so advanced; yet, a quick look at obesity statistics suggests we might be lagging behind in the fitness department.
Fortunately, those statistics don’t tell the entire story. As a society, we’ve reacted to obvious problems in kind by promoting healthier food choices, more active lifestyles and technology that helps accomplish all of the above and more.
Several factors are driving the changes in overall health consciousness. The types of illness leading to death have changed dramatically, and the forms of treatment available from mainstream medicine have proven unreliable at times, leading many of us to seek alternative treatment.
Below, we will examine the following in detail:
- Diet and lifestyle
- Illness and lifespan
- Care and treatment
- Environmental consciousness
How we approach these issues is the true measure of whether or not we’re facing a crisis.
Diet and Lifestyle
The end of the 20th century saw a massive surge in the popularity of fast food, processed foods and an increase in the use of pesticides alongside the development of genetically modified crops. The combined reduction to cost and increased availability of food helped contribute to what is consistently referred to as the “obesity epidemic.”
Add to that more digital entertainment, and it’s easy to see how people might gain weight and exercise less. But that’s not where our story ends. Enter the 21st century and things are already changing.
Mobile technology has made us go out into the world again. Widespread internet access has reduced the number of cable TV subscribers and allowed us access to the unlimited information provided by the net while simultaneously making travel less of a burden.
Following the increased need for engagement, programs such as Zumba have grown in popularity, providing opportunities for exercise that may be more entertaining than a regular walk or bike ride.
Several mainstream manufacturers are also responding to demand for healthier foods by offering organic options, removing artificial ingredients and, in some cases, taking part in the Non-GMO verified project. Farmer’s markets are also experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with a renewed focus on sustainable food and fair trade pricing.
And while soda remains as popular as ever, public knowledge regarding the dangers of sugary drinks is growing thanks in part to internet resources and popular TV shows such as “The Dr. Oz Show.”
Illness and Lifespan
One central issue to our concern over wellness is the increasing lifespan facing the developed world. The last few centuries have seen us living longer and longer, and with that comes some very different challenges from a health perspective.
In developed countries, most deaths occur in people over the age of 70. For most of us, that means we have less concern about infectious illness and more concern about chronic diseases, such as heart disease, lung disease and even neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, etc.).
Several chronic illnesses are tied directly to diet and lifestyle, including the number one killer, heart disease. What we discussed above is helping to make a difference, especially with diabetes, but rising numbers definitely help support a more abysmal view.
In truth, we may need to just accept some of these diseases as a result of living longer. Instead of dying from measles, complications at childbirth or malnutrition, we’re fortunate enough to survive until our body begins to break down. You might even consider it a luxury that underdeveloped nations don’t have, where HIV and other infectious diseases claim far more lives than age.
That doesn’t mean we’ve given up the fight—new treatments are available every day to help improve daily function and comfort.
Care and Treatment
To combat the rise of chronic and end-of-life illnesses such as cancer, dementia and heart disease, our care model has evolved. On the mainstream end, new medications with fewer side effects are available to treat what would have been fatal just a few decades ago.
Conversely, prescription drug abuse is way up. The CDC even describes the current problem as an epidemic. Unsurprisingly, painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications carry high risk for addiction and dependence. Worse yet, evidence of their long-term efficacy is seriously lacking.
Evidence is stacking up that the pharmaceutical model of treatment has serious issues both because it often fails to treat the underlying cause and because side effects may be worse than the actual symptoms. Examples include Parkinson’s medication causing symptoms of schizophrenia, immunosuppressant drugs leading to infection and/or cancer and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) having paradoxical effects.
The good news is that alternative (meaning not part of the medical model) treatments have a growing body of evidence supporting their efficacy. Chiropractic care, according to research, is cheaper and just as or more effective at treating headaches, neck pain and low back pain than surgery or medications all while being minimally invasive.
The same is true for massage therapy, acupuncture and physical therapy; all have been demonstrated effective and safe. Meanwhile, major advances have been made in the fields of neurology and psychology, both of which help treat mental disorders and injuries often without the use of drugs or surgery.
Technology such as videonystagmography has made it easier for practitioners to detect brain and nerve injuries early and provide treatment regiments to curb associated damages, particularly concerning concussions.
While the future of health care is uncertain, the battle between big pharma and alternative care means there is still plenty of room for hope.
Another factor that threatens our wellness is the environment and pollution. Major industrial nations such as China are a growing concern, threatening the entire planet with their unsafe manufacturing practices and flagrant abuse to the environment.
Meanwhile, we aren’t taking things sitting down. Environment consciousness is on the rise, with many of us turning to technology to answer our concerns. Big improvements include more energy-efficient appliances, better recycling practices and the reduction in how many tools we need to carry thanks largely in part to mobile technology.
Despite the toxic manufacturing processes behind our phones, we’ve been able to replace a number of tools that were equally dangerous to produce. For instance, few of us ever need to carry a physical map, a separate camera or music player. Individually, the number of devices we’d be required to carry that a phone replaces actually helps reduce our carbon footprints.
Also, most companies have migrated or are currently switching a number of physical services into the digital realm. Paperless bills, digital signing and e-books help to reduce the amount of things ultimately headed to the landfill and thus cut down on pollution.
Newer cars also produce fewer emissions, consume less gas and are manufactured under stricter conditions. This is an area of special interest to our wellness because toxic fumes produced by vehicles and manufacturing lead to numerous preventable illnesses and deaths.
Our modern society faces no shortage of challenges to wellness. Blooming health care costs, toxic pollutants and unhealthy food all work together to make our lives more difficult. More technology also means less time spent in nature—at least for some of us.
For the rest of us, there’s hope for a better tomorrow. While technology has brought us no shortage of problems, it also promises to replace older, more destructive inventions and provide us cleaner, more convenient choices that help reduce related illnesses.
Advances in the health care industry hope to provide us with solutions to illnesses once thought untreatable, though we’re simultaneously presented with new diseases resulting from our increased lifespans and unhealthy diets.
On the other end of the spectrum, campaigns for healthier, more sustainable food sources are combatting obesity and diabetes. Fitness programs and advocacy groups are doing what they can to get us out and active.
No one can be sure what the future holds, but what do you think? Are we moving toward a healthier, fitter society? Or are we on the path to destruction? Tell us what you think in the comments.